Reception of Holy Communion
So, we need to be in a state of grace and we ought to be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion. Given the timeless and profound nature of the mystery we enter at Mass, and the One we receive in the Eucharist, it stands to reason that being right with God and being properly disposed to receive our Lord cannot be considered a small matter or merely a matter of personal piety or preference. Just as we would do our best to present ourselves in the best light if we were to receive into our homes a mere human dignitary – dressing appropriately, cleaning house, being on our best behavior, etc. – it makes even greater sense to prepare ourselves to receive our divine Lord who comes to us under the appearances of mere bread and wine. Therefore, we should never consider receiving our Lord as a matter of routine or in a blasé manner. It is one thing to disrespect or insult a human dignitary through inappropriate familiarity or casual indifference, yet it is quite another thing to affront or to take our Creator and Savior for granted.
We have all seen people receive Communion on autopilot, and many of us have been guilty of this at one time or another, but we should loathe the idea of doing so on a regular basis. The Lord knows how weak and how limited we are, but at some point our weakness and limitations cease to be unfortunate consequences of our fallen nature when they rise to the level of being habitual, born of indifference, or both. Indifference in particular causes concern because apathy, lack of regard, irreverence, and even insolence are chosen attitudes and behaviors. If they are chosen, and therefore deliberate, they carry sinful culpability to one degree or another, much more so than an occasional defect in our behavior that stems from our human weakness or limitation. Again, we must examine ourselves each time we approach the Lord in Communion and ask if we are properly disposed and able to receive Him fruitfully.
We have all seen priests celebrate Mass on autopilot or even ‘just phone it in.’ Again, human weakness and limitation affect priests in the same way as anyone else, but we rightly expect more from our priests. Habitual or indifferent or irreverent celebration of Mass by a priest also carries moral culpability since these transcend human weakness by the deliberate nature of the priest’s disposition or lack of due reverence. Given that a priest’s habitual or overtly deliberate lack of proper disposition when celebrating Mass has a corrosive effect on the faithful, it carries with it the added moral deficit of scandal. After all, the priest ought to be offering Mass with the understanding and appreciation of what he is doing and what happens through his humanly weak ministry. Likewise, a priest that tries to ‘improve’ upon the Mass, making it more entertaining, making it more folksy, and all too often making the Mass more about him than about God, detracts from the Mass and creates scandal that often leads the people to take Mass and the Eucharist less seriously. Indeed, if the priest does not take the Mass and the Eucharist seriously, why should anyone else? Thankfully, the priest offering Mass robotically, just phoning it in, changing the Mass to suit his whim, or even celebrating Mass in a state of mortal sin does not negate the sacrament itself: if he says the words of institution with the intention to consecrate the bread and wine, Jesus becomes present in the Eucharist.
Indeed, when the priest says the words of institution – This is My Body, This is the chalice of My Blood – do we get the sense that he is merely reading words or that he actually believes what he is saying? When we present ourselves to receive Communion, are we just doing what everyone else is doing or are we truly aware of what is happening? We all can and we all ought to do better.
Given that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life (CCC 1324), this needs to be reflected in how we receive Jesus, our interior disposition, whether or not we are in a state of grace, how Mass is celebrated on both sides of the altar, and in how we look forward to and how we prepare ourselves for Mass. Since the Eucharist is the source and summit of the faith and that the Mass is the supreme act of worship we can offer, these realities need to be reflected in how we all approach the altar.